The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted last week to move Senate Bill 463 forward. If passed, the bill would provide equal custody rights to divorced parents who do not already have a custody agreement.
The bill requires family court judges to allow each party 50/50 custody to begin the divorce process, except in cases where there is clear evidence that one party or the other has a history of abusing their child or threatening their child’s safety.
The bill, if passed, would become law under the Parenting Fairness Act, and has been debated twice in the legislature in the last three years. In 2020, House Bill 4648 was passed by both Legislative Chambers, but in the last week of the legislature of that session, the clock ran out and the bill was not passed into law.
Organizations such as West Virginia for Shared Parenting argue that existing laws are automatically punitive and do not take into account the parental access requirements of both children. The agency’s founder, Jeff Pinkerton, testified at the hearing and said in an interview with the Herald Dispatch that the custody standard forced the judge to give his wife the lion’s share of custody rights because he was working full-time while his wife was caring for their child at home. Was. He believes that the regime, right from a legal point of view, was pervasive, punishing him for doing so. To increase her custody rights, Pinkerton has spent more than $ 20,000 on legal fees, but she struggles to do so because she lacks a suitable child custody lawyer.
Hearing for a bill may be considered an adverse effect that may arise from the bill. Some lawyers are concerned that 50-50 custody rights may automatically be handed over to abusive parents, and some parents may make false claims to prevent their children from spending more time with their ex-partners.
According to General Counsel Tom Smith, in response to a question from Senate Judiciary and Chairman Ryan Weld, the bill would likely open up existing custody agreements.
Equal custody matters
Diana Rock, who serves as a judge in the Mineral County Family Court, said she was concerned that the bill could cause people to face domestic violence, with their children spending half their time in those relationships instead of risking being alone with an abusive parent.
According to the text of the law, explicit evidence of domestic violence, or history as a sex offender would be the basis for a judge to refrain from granting equal custody. However, Rock worries that it will create the impetus for divorcees to file false claims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in order to win custody.
The bill has moved the Senate for further discussion.